Two representatives of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation (LFF) visited St Helena for two weeks in May 2013, primarily to review the way SHG handled child protection cases. Their visit was initiated, contracted and paid for by the UK Government.
Since the St Helena Independent newspaper drew attention to the draft LFF report being available online, some individuals on St Helena have sought to argue that it is right for the public to have access to it. Many others have taken an opposing view. I thought it right that I, as Governor, should offer my view on this.
It was never intended that the LFF report should be made public, given the importance of protecting the identity of victims of abuse, as well as the identity of those who were asked to provide information to LFF on a strictly confidential basis. A summary of the LFF’s principal findings, as contained in the final version of the report, was published on the SHG website in October 2013.
The summary, which protects personal and confidential details, provided the basis for public discussion of the main issues covered in the report. The media gave it constructive coverage and Councillors discussed the subject at Constituency meetings. It was acknowledged that, as in the UK and elsewhere, St Helena had problems to address. Drawing on recommendations made in the LFF report, SHG launched a work programme to improve management of this important area of work.
We all know that earlier this year an unnamed individual leaked a draft copy of the LFF report to a UK newspaper. This resulted in a series of headlines which outraged Saints and the many friends of St Helena around the world. A few weeks ago, it became known that a draft version of the LFF report was leaked to a law firm in London which then published the entire draft report on its website. The St Helena Independent newspaper subsequently printed an ‘anonymous’ letter providing a link to the leaked report on the UK law firm’s website. SHG then took immediate steps to counsel and help protect victims and others identified in this draft LFF report.
It should be understood here that the leaked LFF draft report is just that – an early draft. The final version was produced much later after work to check and filter information gathered from many sources by the LFF representatives during their brief visit to St Helena.
Much of the work of your government, by far the bulk of it, is open and transparent; and so it should be. I am pleased that over the past few years we have seen much more openness in government than hitherto. But most people will readily agree that some information must, for important reasons, stay confidential, restricted only to those who need to know.
I have been asked by some in our community whether those who argue that the LFF draft report should be published would be happy if SHG were to publish their medical and social services records, police records, personal financial, tax and employment details and so on. I think not. Or would they agree to the Bank of St Helena publishing their personal expenditure and income statements? I think not.
The work of Police and Social Service Officers can be seriously damaged and undermined by breaches of trust and confidentiality, even more so in such a small community as ours. One might think this should be glaringly obvious to most people. To support publication of a confidential report about child protection, knowing that it would be likely to damage efforts to improve performance in that area and cause grief to victims and families that have had to deal with abuse, is reprehensible.
Nonetheless, the callous attitude of the few will not deter those in SHG and in our community who are working hard to strengthen measures to protect children and the vulnerable from abuse of any sort. We are making steady progress and more expert resources are being allocated to help take forward this vital work. I am sure that the community as a whole will welcome and support that.